NC School for the Deaf director has been fired

August 18, 2010 10:23:36 AM PDT
The director of the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton has been fired days before the expected release of findings of a state investigation into possible student abuse and neglect, a state official said Wednesday.

Janet McDaniel, who has run the school since April 2008 as interim and then permanent director, was "separated" Tuesday from state government, Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Renee McCoy told The Associated Press. She had been suspended with pay since mid-July while a team examined allegations made by the advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina.

McDaniel was let go "based on the preliminary findings of the investigation," McCoy said, but couldn't immediately comment further, in part because the report was still being finalized. A message left at a phone number listed for McDaniel wasn't immediately returned.

Disability Rights wrote its own report detailing allegations that teachers or staff assaulted two students, used excessive force with a third and entered the girls' dormitory at inappropriate times.

McCoy said the team's findings should be out by next week. She couldn't comment on whether the group's allegations were accurate. Some information will be confidential because it involves personnel and students at the day and residential school of nearly 100 students in grades K-12. The new school year begins Monday.

The team, which included HHS leaders, a former principal, a state educator and child psychologist, has interviewed as many as 30 people.

"Every single allegation was taken very seriously," McCoy said. "We feel that at the end of the investigation there will be a number of things that will be improved" at the school, she added.

Disability Rights North Carolina had called for McDaniel's removal in its report because it said she "permits and perpetuates acts of abuse by failing to take swift and decisive action to protect students."

Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights, said the firing shows HHS is serious about responding to the allegations.

"It does look like that they came to the conclusion that we did," she said.

The group said a student reported that a teacher injured her and damaged her personal property and that she was placed in a face-down restraint position, preventing her from using her hands to communicate through sign language.

Its report also alleged a dormitory staff member pushed a student on his chest and backed him against a wall. The group also said a male dormitory director who no longer works at the school repeatedly entered the girls' high school dormitory during their scheduled shower time.

McDaniel, 49, made $97,115 per year as director. She began her state government career in 1983 and was made the school's permanent director in February. McDaniel can't challenge the dismissal through the state personnel process because the position is exempt from those appeals, McCoy said.

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